Considering the dearth of female directors these days, it takes, well, balls for a woman to finagle her way into getting her film made.
Leslye Headland, director of last year's "Bachelorette," is most certainly packing a pair. Not only did she manage to get the feature (which she also wrote, adapted from of her stage play of the same name) produced and wrangle big-name stars such as Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher and Adam Scott into headlining, she made a hit. The indie grossed about $418 thousand in theaters, but made more than ten times that, $5.5 million, through VOD and iTunes rentals, sparking hope for small-time filmmakers hoping to reach an audience.
We caught up with Headland before the Blu-ray and DVD of "Bachelorette" hit shelves across the country Tuesday, touching on everything from "Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion," the future of filmmaking and which '80s stars she'd cast in her movie, given the chance.
KASE WICKMAN: What's the thing that’s most surprised you between the movie actually being released and now, months later, when it's coming out on DVD?
LESLYE HEADLAND: I guess I'm just so surprised when women recognize me...which is weird because I feel like as a writer/director that doesn't happen very often. But, like, I’ll be in a bar or on the street and somebody will be like "Oh my god, I love Bachelorette!" and they’ll quote the movie to me or they’ll say, "Oh, that dance that those girls do at the rehearsal dinner, we did that at our girlfriend’s wedding," and I’m like this is what I hoped for for the movie. All I ever wanted to do was make like "Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion," you know? The movie that women would quote to each other and reference all the time, and that the movie would sort of become part of the language of their friendship, so I've had a couple of experiences where that’s actually happened which is cool.
That’s so cool. Where do they recognize you, just walking down the street?
Yeah, one of them was on the street and she was like "Hey, are you Leslye Headland?" and I was like, "What? Are you f**king kidding me?" I was like, "I am! That’s amazing, how did you know who I was?" That’s crazy!
Like, "Am I being served?"
Yeah exactly! Like oh no, here we go...here it comes.
You said you've had great reactions. Was there anything that either resonated with people or upset people that you didn't expect?
I’m trying to think if there was a negative one. I’m sure there are, I just haven’t heard about them. I feel like...I don’t know...I feel like at least the people who have talked to me about the movie, I feel like they really got it. I’m sure there are some people who fucking hated it, but I’m just not talking to them.
They’re not seeking you out.
They're not seeking me out to let me know, I'll put it that way. Yeah, I haven't gotten any hate mail about it.
"I have strong feelings about this and I need to let you know."
And I need to let you know every single detail of it, yeah. I'm trying to think if something that’s surprising. I mean, really, I think the biggest shock was the iTunes download that first weekend. That was just shocking. Obviously, even before we were picked up for distribution, I assumed that we would be doing a VOD iTunes release before theatrical because that was where the climate was heading, that’s where we’re going. But to have that kind of success the first weekend, I was totally shocked by it. I still don’t quite understand it.
Do you think it was a lot of word of mouth? That was crazy, it was a total sneak attack on iTunes.
Absolutely! Yea,h it must have been because obviously the girls and I did a lot of press and all of that, but it seemed like people were really anticipating the movie in a good way, whether it be because the cast or the subject matter or because of the success that it had at Sundance, or whatever it was. It really sort of soared. And for me, the excitement about that is not — well, it's twofold: one, you're just excited about it for your project, because you're just like well that’s great, people are responding to it and they're interested in watching it. Two, I really do believe that this particular distribution platform is the way that young filmmakers like myself — I'm not that young, I don't want to misrepresent myself — but for especially first-time filmmakers, that's really where we have a shot to prove our validity in the market space. So that made me very happy because it made me feel like some other filmmakers might feel more comfortable about what they're gonna do or how they're going to go about distributing their movies or maybe they'll self-distribute, whatever it is, a success story like that, I think, helps everybody, not just me or my movie. I think it’s really good.
When you do your next movie, would you go by the same model?
I’d like to. I think so because I think that I would like to always be writing stuff that's maybe not something a studio wants to immediately greenlight because it might be touchy or might be dangerous — and I think that "Bachelorette" is very dangerous. And then I think when it succeeded in that platform, it sort of proved that it may not be a mainstream movie but it's a profitable movie and it can find an audience. So there’s more of a reason for people to take a chance on scripts like that. So I’m a big fan of that plan.
Sadly, it’s not super common to see female directors. Do you think there's something that needs to change or something that’s holding more women back from making movies?
Oh no, it is really sort of dire isn’t it?
Yeah. Diablo Cody said that one of the things that she hopes is that women will feel encouraged to make crappy movies also, just like men do.
Right, I know, men do make some s**tty movies, don’t they? And no one stops giving them jobs based on their gender. Yeah, I think the best advice that I could give — I don’t know if that's really answering your question, but I think the best advice I could give to a budding female director...it's what’s in the movie. It’s like, fuck everyone, don’t let the bastards get you down. Don't think about how people are perceiving you, just do good work and tell your story, and don’t get discouraged when people lump you into a group or are sexist of you. It's like the phrase "The first guy through the wall gets bloody." We're all gonna get bloody going through this wall and charging ahead so if we keep going it will make it easier for everybody else who are coming a year after us, five years after us, ten years after us. Just keep going and do not let anybody discourage you.
But it's sort of fun though, the fact that it’s challenging, isn't it? It's sort of fun...I don’t know, I like a challenge, so I’m sort of into it. Like when you get it done, you're like, "yeah, I mean, f**k you guys, I made a movie!" Doesn't help my dating life at all though, I’ll tell you that much. If you’re dating unproduced directors, they’re not really excited that you’re a female filmmaker.
You’re like c’mon guys! And they’re like ughhh.
They’re like, "ugh god, that f**king chick." I don’t know if that's like a joke or not actually, it's sort of sad.
You've written for TV, film, and stage. Do certain stories lend themselves to a certain medium? Or is it just kind of what you’re feeling or what’s available? How do you decide?
I'm somebody that’s been a pretty avid viewer of all of those mediums and also definitely venerates writers who can sort of move in between all of them, like David Mamet and Aaron Sorkin did the same thing. And I also love actors that do that. Krysten Ritter, who's the star of my pilot that we're prepping and shooting now, she’s done film, television, and theatre, she goes within all of those. I think what’s exciting about that is that it makes you better, and it makes you use muscles maybe that you wouldn't always use if you were in one medium. For me, the reason that I leap at the opportunity to work in a new medium or in a different medium or to switch it up is because it’s challenging, because I have to put a different hat on and I have to grow and adapt and change. I think if I get too comfortable, I'm gonna get boring really fast.
When you’re adapting your own work, like you did from stage to screen for "Bachelorette" and stage to TV for "Assistance," is enjoyable because you’re more comfortable with the characters? What’s that like?
Oh, I love doing that! Because I had great fun doing it on the film and great fun doing it on the pilot as well because...I have a healthy — I don’t know how to put this in a positive way, but it’s like a healthy disrespect for my own writing. Do you know what I mean? I really respect my characters and I always want to service them, and I've said this before, especially with "Assistance," what TV show do these characters want to be in? And I think what ends up rising to the top and what ends up being most muscular about it is the characters and their journey as opposed to my funny jokes. Like who cares? If I’m a good writer, I should be able to come up with another one. So I think if you're skeptical of your own skill, it’s good to stay on your toes and to really challenge yourself. I think if I were adapting someone else's work I would be much more reverential for sure. But not with my stuff.
You’re like "Oh, I need to respect their work," and then you look at your own stuff and you’re like "This asshole, however..."
Yeah, I’m like, what was I thinking?! Especially too because the adaptations of these plays — this is a little too much backstory — but I was much younger when I wrote those. I wrote the play of "Bachelorette" when I was 26 and I wrote "Assistance" the following year. So there's a good five years between the genesis of the characters of the project and where they're becoming and sort of moving out into different mediums, so it’s actually very exciting to grow with them. And I don't think that's something that writers get a chance to do a lot. A lot of times they're enshrined and they're there and they stay. Whether it be television, or film, or theatre, they're sort of enshrined and that’s it. I've actually gotten to go to essentially different worlds and different countries and different environments with my characters and see how they survive, and since I don't have any friends it’s really great because my characters are my friends. I bring my own friends, they’re in my head, they’re imaginary and I’m just gonna hang out with them all day. God, I’m really sounding depressed aren't I?
When the movie first came out, you said how much you hate weddings, you were in your sister’s wedding and you just did not enjoy going to weddings. And it's funny because I saw you quoted in a wedding magazine with tips.
Oh god right, "The Knot"! I know, that was crazy! And a friend of mine was getting married that summer and she was like “I just read your interview in 'The Knot,' it was amazing,” and I was like oh my god, what did they write? I can't even remember what I said!
Were you surprised to be asked? Were you like, "have you seen the movie?
Well when I was doing the interview for that, I was trying to be as honest as possible, but not negative. Because I think that weddings are almost like a production in and of themselves, like making a pilot or making a film, and so it's almost like I was sort of approaching their questions for brides to be or people that were planning weddings, it’s almost like I sort of approached it as if somebody had asked me like how do I make a film. It's like if something goes wrong, which it will, don’t lose your shit. Because it’s gonna go wrong, it’s not gonna be perfect. It’s gonna be a process, and some things are gonna be beyond your wildest dreams, which the movie absolutely was, and the process of making it, there are going to be rises and falls and you're gonna be like "Wait, why am I doing this?" and then you’re gonna be like "I can’t believe I get paid to do this."
The IMDB plot keywords for this really made me laugh because they were "high school," "stripper" and "bulimia."
What keywords would you choose? Or do you like those ones?
I like those! Those are good. Maybe I would just throw in "abortion," like just for fun. Just to see, just to fuck it up. Or "boobs," just throw in "boobs" there, just in case.
If this movie had been set in the '80s, or made in the '80s, who would your dream '80s cast be for the movie?
Are you kidding me?! Oh god, that's such a good question! S**t. Oh my god, that's good. Well, I'll start with the guys because I think they’re easier. I think [James] Marsden would be played by James Spader, obviously. I think Adam Scott would be played by Michael J. Fox. I think Kyle [Bornheimer]...I think I'm gonna give Kyle...Cusack. I'm just gonna go there, I’m just gonna say f**kin' we’ll make him [John] Cusack, fuck it. And for the girls, I think Lizzy [Caplan] would probably be Phoebe Cates, Isla [Fisher] would be Molly Ringwald, and then Kirsten [Dunst] — that’s a tough one. I wonder who Kirsten would be in the '80s. It's hard because the character that she plays in my movie, I just love her so much. I'm just so proud of that character because I just feel like you haven't seen it before. There isn't a doppleganger that you can go "Oh, it's like blahh!" But I guess, I think at the time she was a little young but I bet Jennifer Jason Leigh would’ve pulled it off. Bridget Fonda actually, I'm gonna go with Bridget Fonda! I think Bridget Fonda would’ve done it. That’s a great question, that’s f**king awesome. And Rebel [Wilson]! Oh s**t, who's gonna play Rebel? S**t, I don’t know.
Rebel may just have to travel back in time.
I think, honestly, we would just have to have her. We'd have to create a time machine out of a DeLorean and then send Rebel back to the '80s because I don't know how you replace Rebel.